Monday, 8 November 2010

Dear Grant...

So, after what felt like an eternity (8 weeks is a long time!), I eventually returned to the bush for a holiday after completing the course work component of my degree, and having read all of Grant’s updates (directed at me!) for the preceding weeks, I was dead keen to get back to the Timbavati and see some of these amazing things for myself. Okay, now for those that know me, on my many visits to the bush this year, there has been a far too familiar pattern; I arrived. The animals leave. I leave. The animals return. Grant found it extremely funny, but I had gotten used to this, yet over the course of my 9 visits to the area this year, I had still seen some pretty good things (including a cheetah that Grant failed to ever mention in his blog!...along with good wild dogs, lions killing a baby buffalo, the white lions, plenty of leopards, a crash of 8 rhinos etc etc), but Grant’s ‘bragging’ of getting the Big 7 for his one lot of guests a couple of months ago, and then doing the Big 7 in one day was just getting too much, and I really needed to see if he had actually seen this, or if he had eaten some of those funny mushrooms growing out of the elephant dung, and begun hallucinating.

So I returned to the bush, but was staying at my family’s little bungalow on Ingwelala, the property adjacent to Motswari, and not at the lodge itself. The first couple of days at Ingwelala were really quiet, and I was convinced Grant had imagined all he had seen, his only saving grace was for some credibility was that when I drove down Argyle Rd (the main access road to Motswari, and effectively the western boundary of the Timbavati), I did actually see some animals! It started with 2 relaxed white rhinos near Nkombi Pan, and a bit further north along the road, at Voel Dam, I saw some of the guides that told me the Mahlathini male lions were heading to the dam, and Herald kindly let me jump on his vehicle so I could see them a bit closer. They were nice and fat, and had in fact just stolen an impala kill from three cheetahs in the area; the free food was most welcomed, as these young-but-large male lions had been involved in a bit of a fight and two of the males had picked up some injuries – the one seemed to do some reasonable damage to his front right leg.

The next morning I went to see if the cheetahs would maybe pop out on Argyle Rd (seeing as I couldn’t drive in the Timbavati), but instead I found the three Mahlathini males still at Voel Dam. When a game drive vehicle drove past, I jumped on board and took them to see where the lions had moved off to, and we found them sleeping there, still nice and full. At that time, Herald found Argyle Jnr female leopard near Lover’s Leap, so the guide took me to go and see this leopard that is now getting quite relaxed. We followed her for a while and as we were about to pull out, she found her two cubs, but they were very nervous (maybe due to a young male leopard in the area that stole Argyle Jnr’s kill the night before, or maybe just from a lack of exposure to vehicles recently), and ran off, with mom in tow. I had friends coming to spend the night with me, and realised that if they wanted to see animals, I would have to take them for a drive at Motswari, so I organised to take them out in the afternoon, knowing that they would at least see some lions. What I wasn’t expecting was everything else they saw....

The drive started off with a beautiful herd of elephants moving from Argyle Dam to Xinatsi Dam, and they would walk past on either side of the vehicle as if we were not even there; it was really great, and the sighting my friends enjoyed most – which is saying a lot considering what else we saw! We left the elephants and went to check the area where Argyle Jnr leopardess had been seen in the morning, and Andri was checking the area with me. I radioed him to ask if he had found anything. He said ‘no’, but seconds later said ‘yes, I got an Ingwe’ (Ingwe is ‘leopard’ in Shangaan)! It was music to my ears when he told me the leopard he had Kuhanya at Lover’s Leap, and I was only 2 minutes away, so I went to join him and spent about 40 minutes following her as she patiently stalked a steenbok; a patience I did not expect, and something very reminiscent of her mom, Mbali. We left her to make our way towards the Mahlathini male lions that were still near Voel Dam, and ticked off giraffe, kudu, impala, hippo, bull elephants and baboon on the way there.

As we were getting close, our plans quickly changed when a guide called in three cheetahs on the Argyle Rd about 2km away from our position, and fortunately they were heading into the Timbavati! I made my way quickly there before it got too dark, and got to see the three newly independent sisters roaming around and climbing up and down a couple of termite mounds. It was a bit too dark for photos, but just to see the cheetahs I had read about and realising Grant wasn’t hallucinating was amazing! And with that sighting, I took my tally up to 4 cheetah sightings in 4 years – still got to catch up to Grant in his 11 months!

We sadly left the cheetahs and made our way a kilometre back north to view the lions. My friends were really enjoying this, and joked that it would be great if there was a rhino with our name written on it. Literally 5 seconds later a male white rhino steps out onto the road in front of us! It was the relaxed Nhlangula male, all the way in the north, and what a pleasant surprise. Sadly it was all but dark, and as we don’t view rhinos after dark with the spotlight, we could only watch him grazing for a couple of minutes in the fading twilight. We left him and 2 minutes later pulled up to watch the three Mahlathini males as they slowly woke from a day of doing nothing. The one male sniffed the air, clearly picking up the scent of the rhino that must have walked past them to get to Voel Dam. After a while the three brothers all awoke and sauntered off into the darkness, and we headed back to camp. Along the way, we saw a hippo out the water, an elephant, 3 hyenas and an African Wild Cat! So with 4 of the Big 5 and cheetah in one drive, you can imagine we were all quite pleased.

The next day we went to a wedding in town, and saw a herd of buffalo (to complete the Big 5) and 2 ostriches on the way out. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get any wild dog’s to complete the Big 7 in 24 hours, but I didn’t care, as driving back into the Timbavati the next morning, I found 5 wild dogs running along Argyle Rd near Double Highway! So, it took me 48 hours, but I still got the Big 7! Yes Grant, I, The Chad, got the Big 7! I went to a nearby lodge to radio the guides and tell them the wild dogs were moving into the Timbavati (they had no luck finding them until later that evening, when they actually found another pack of 10 wild dogs in the same area!), and carried on back towards Ingwelala, and saw the three Mahlathini males at, you guessed it, Voel Dam!

The next day, with more friends joining me, and hearing that the 10 wild dogs were sleeping at Hide Dam, I decided to take them out on a drive on Motswari that afternoon. We saw some nice buffalo bulls and 2 hyenas at Trade Entrance Dam before the drive, and on drive we had another great sighting of a breeding herd of elephant drinking and splashing at Xinatsi Dam. We then slowly headed down to Vielmetter to see the wild dogs. I wanted to be the last vehicle there so we could follow them on the hunt, and sure enough, as it got dark they headed off to hunt, but they ran to the east, towards the boundary of our property. I could literally see the boundary 100m ahead, and wanted one more guide to see the dogs, so I hung back as he tried to see them before it was too late, but they were highly mobile and I thought that he would miss them, but he radioed me seconds later to tell me they had made a kill, so I went to rejoin him, only to find not one, but two leopards up in two trees above the wild dogs! It was Zakumi and Rockfig Jnr, and they had just had their kill stolen by the dogs! A hyena arrived on the scene only to be promptly chased off by the dogs. The dogs tried to intimidate the leopards by jumping up at them, but they were both safe and out of harm’s way. As it got dark, the wild dogs disappeared off the property, and we sat and watched the leopards. Eventually Zakumi jumped down and went to join her mom who still had a small scrap of meat, but Rockfig Jnr was not happy with her presence and they had a bit of a fight in the tree before Zakumi jumped down and went to lie on the rocks below. After that, we still got to see Nthombi and her cub feeding on a kill near Elephant Dam. And Grant, if you had been counting, you might have noticed that I saw all of the Big 7 in just two drives on Motswari...sound familiar??? Hahahah, I did it, my bad luck has gone away!

Back on Ingwelala, a few animals actually started to show themselves, and I took Grant to show him the three Jacaranda lionesses, their two pride males, and two of their five 10-week old cubs that they had with them in the northern Umbabat! Grant had noticed that the female was lactating when he saw them a couple of weeks ago on their buffalo kill up on Buchner. The wild dogs eventually moved up north onto Ingwelala (also saw them on Motswari at Sohebele Dam one lunch-time when I went out with Grant), but after a day they moved onto Motswari again and were seen drinking at Sharalumi Cottage. Although I went out with Grant and his guests and tried to find them, there was no sign of them, so we settled for a nice herd of elephant near Argyle Dam, Kuhanya female leopard at Sohebele Dam, and the three Mahlathini male lions near Mbali. Not a bad afternoon I’d say, and with a thunderstorm brewing all around, we headed back to camp. On returning to Ingwelala, I found the wild dog tracks running on top of Grant’s vehicle tracks, so we must have just missed them. The next morning I did get lucky and found them on Argyle Rd at the entrance to Ingwelala, and followed them as they attacked and mauled an impala that ran to a nearby staff compound for protection, and the wild dogs weren’t brave enough to go and finish the job. One of the dogs tried to pull it away, but on her own, was having no luck, and the pack sadly abandoned the still-living impala and ran off. Definitely not a sighting for the feint-hearted.

It was also a great way to end off a wonderful 11 days back in the bush, and it was also good to see the first splattering of the summer rains falling; it won’t be long before the bush totally transforms itself into a lush, green oasis!

It was also really good to be able to sit down and write this blog again! Hope you all have enjoyed it, and by the end of the month, we will have a totally revamped blog site up and running, with a lot more information about our special animals which I am sure you will all enjoy....

So until next time...take care


The Chad


  1. welcome "back" Chad :o)
    Your pics are absolutely top-drawer (as usual!)

  2. Fantastic pics - beautifully shot VWD.
    Awesome to read a blog written by you again.


  3. Wonderful images, Chad!
    Thanks for sharing them.

  4. Nice comeback to Grant's last blog.
    Great pics and loved the blog.


  5. Very nice, Chad.

    Just not sure how you can refrain yourself from jumping in to save that poor deer (no pun intended).

  6. How wonderful to log onto Motswari website and read your blog Chad and see your fabulous photos. Happy memories of a great time with you and Petros late Oct/early Nov 2009. We cannot wait to be back there.
    Best wishes to you all.
    Regards, Rosemary and Phil

  7. thanks so much everyone!!!

    glad you enjoyed the pics and thanks for taking the time to read the blog - glad i could share it with you guys - every drive i did at motswari that week was awesome!

    also heard some great news about some special friends of ours, but i will leave that update up to grant!

    im back at mots for a visit next i will definitely do some more blog updates then!

    thanks again :)

  8. Thanks for the info and pics are great.
    Nice to know whats going on while we slave away in JHB. Will be down on the 18/11 hopefully we can catch up over a beer or two

    Keep the Blogs coming!

    Richard 108

  9. Awesome Richard...i'll be at mots, so will try pop over to ingwelala and say howzit!

  10. Amazing photos up to your usual standard Chad, thanks for sharing...... !

  11. thanks Karen! just been on my first game drive here with Gabi! saw the white lions :) yesterday saw the white lions feeding on a giraffe as well as three cheetahs! was amazing as always!!! will have a blog update for you guys soon!!!